CLEVELAND – Seth Gaskins was smoking a cigarette on the street a few blocks from the Quicken Loans Arena, where Republicans have been gathering all week, when he learned his party had recently declared pornography to be a “public health crisis.”
“Ebola is a public health crisis, pornography in my opinion is not a public health crisis. There’s multiple factions in the Republican Party, and certain things get in that platform that not everyone agrees with,” he said.
Gaskins didn’t hesitate to admit he had viewed pornography ― something virtually every American teenager has done at some point.
“Absolutely, I’m a red-blooded American male and a Trump supporter,” he said. Asked whether he felt like he was contributing to a public health crisis, Gaskins unequivocally said “absolutely not.”
“This is a public health crisis,” he said, taking a drag on his cigarette.
Many Republicans like Gaskins who were in town for the convention were unaware of the GOP’s official stance on porn. The party’s official platform, adopted on Monday, states that “pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions.”
While many people expressed concern for limiting child pornography – which is already illegal ― they wondered why Republicans were focusing on the issue.
“I think it’s pretty silly to be talking about pornography or whatever. There’s more issues that are more important. Like terrorism, our borders, our economy,” said Dillon Daniels. “We shouldn’t be worried about pornography.”
Mike Huey, who was in town from Illinois, admitted he had watched porn but had never considered whether what he was doing was harmful to the public’s health.
“I don’t think there’s a male alive that hasn’t actually watched pornography at some point in their life,” he said. “Well, probably when I watch it I’m not thinking about that.”
According to data from the website NaughtyAmerica.com, 40 million Americans regularly visit pornographic sites. Seventy percent of men and 30 percent of women watch internet porn, according to the site. This year, the largest number of visitors to Adult Empire, a different site, have been in the 25-34 demographic.
Pornhub.com said that its site had seen a 4.2 percent increase in traffic coming from Cleveland over the past week, including a large surge in searches for Melania Trump.
Donald Trump, who is now the standard-bearer of the Republican party, has appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine and has frequently boasted about his sexual prowess.
“I wouldn’t mind if there were an anti-Viagra, something with the opposite effect. I’m not bragging. I’m just lucky. I don’t need it. I’ve always said, ‘If you need Viagra, you’re probably with the wrong girl,’” he told Playboy in 2004.
Some Republicans had trouble understanding how watching pornography was on the same level as public health crises like Ebola, the Zika virus or the opioid epidemic in the United States.
“We’ve got bigger things that need to be looked at than, you know, something like that,” said Jon Cammon. “What does porn have to do with a public health crisis?”
Mary Forrester, the GOP delegate from North Carolina who offered the porn amendment to the party platform, told Yahoo News last week she was concerned about how easily young people could become addicted to pornography.
“It’s such an insidious epidemic and there are no rules for our children,” she said. “It seems to be for young people, they do not have the discernment and so they become addicted before they have the maturity to understand the consequences.”
Some Republicans shared Forrester’s concern about addiction, but didn’t think government should block Americans from doing something in the privacy of their own homes.
“I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s a public health crisis. I would say, you know, pornography has escalated majorly within the last 10 years with technology. I wouldn’t clarify it as a public health crisis,” said Ryan Becker.
While the GOP’s take on pornography may not be the most important plank in its platform, Kelly Lotze worried about the message it would send to voters Republicans were trying to bring into their party.
“That’s part of what I feel takes our party outside of the big tent. Getting so specific like that is not the direction I feel we should be going,” he said.
Asked whether he had ever seen pornography, Lotze simply said “I’m human.”